Marketers often seek out benchmarks by which to measure the effectiveness of various marketing programs as well as their performance vs. industry competitors. In some cases, this information can be quite useful and enlightening, for example, when looking at average email open rates by industry.
In other situations, however—such as when looking at what percentage of total website traffic should be driven by organic search—the answer is a clear but not helpful “it depends.”
Looking at the same sample of 40+ b2b technology websites used in the recent b2b mobile website strategy post here, the average for the first quarter of 2012 was about 39%. But the range of results was wide, from less than a quarter of total website visits to almost two-thirds.
Even that doesn’t tell the full story. When it comes to share of traffic driven by search, few websites are “average.” Instead, most fall into either a low range (generating a quarter to just over a third of all traffic from search) or a high range (with organic search accounting for half to two-thirds of total visits).
Several factors impact the share of traffic that any marketer can expect to generate from organic search, including:
Having an ongoing SEO program (including a blog). It’s hardly surprising, but maintaining regular SEO efforts, even if only a few hours per month, has a strong positive correlation with increased organic search results.
Virtually all of the websites in the group saw an increase in the percentage of traffic driven by search in the first quarter of 2012 vs 1Q2011, indicating that b2b tech buyers are relying more on search. But the difference in the increase between sites with active SEO programs (18% average increase) and those without (5% average growth) was significant.
Even more noteworthy, sites with active content and SEO programs increased their total website traffic, on average, by 25% in the past year. Those who neglected SEO (either never did it or did SEO only as a one-time effort at site launch) experienced an average 15% decline in overall visits.
Website age. In general, the longer a site has been active, the higher the percentage of traffic it generates from organic search. There is a limit to this of course, and it’s only a general trend; there are exceptions, including a one-year old site (with an active SEO program) in this data set that generated 65% of traffic from a search while another, much more mature site (without ongoing SEO) generated only 26% of all visits via search.
Also, the positive trust effect built up over time with the search engines can eventually be overwhelmed by the impact of brand strength. Sites with strong, established, well-known brands tend to generate a higher percentage of traffic from direct visits and a lower percentage from search, especially from non-brand search phrases.
A fourth factor is the level of PR or media relations activity undertaken by the company. An ongoing, active PR program has a number of impacts: it creates links which are valuable for non-brand organic search, and it drives referral traffic from blogs and news sites. The largest impact though seems to be on direct visits and branded search, both of which have a significant positive correlation with the regularity and frequency of PR and media relations activities.
A final factor is social sharing. Again, this has mixed results in terms of traffic proportions, as it increases referral traffic (specifically from social networking and social bookmarking sites). However, the biggest effect of social sharing appears to be on organic search traffic due to the value the search engines place on these links.
The takeaway is that a number of factors can affect the percentage of total website traffic generated by organic search, so there is no clear target. But doing the right things—ongoing SEO, blogging and PR programs, plus being active in social media—drives increased overall site traffic (and leads), which is the most important metric after all.